Health&Science: Asking Doctors To Have A Heart
Published: Monday, February 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 4, 2013 02:02
There in front of me, the size of a small lemon, pumping vigorously just feet away, was an infant’s heart. Hours before, I could only take claim to seeing hearts on chocolates, candy-grams, and on Grey’s Anatomy. Yet here I was, inside the OR at Boston Children’s Hospital, watching a two-week-old newborn with hypoplasty (a nearly missing left ventricle) struggle for his life in a world he received a harsh welcome to.
The newborn’s aorta was exceptionally small, even under microscopic lenses and toothpick sized tools. Frank Pigula, the cardiac surgeon whose team led the operation I witnessed, told me that for a moment during the surgery he had been worried. One wrong move, one leaking valve, one rip in the tiny aorta … and a precious, new life could have been taken away instantly. I was surprised when he told me that he had been even the slightest bit concerned while operating—it seemed to me that he had performed the whole surgery with flawless ease and a collected disposition.
When in the presence of a skilled team of seven or so medical practitioners, from a cardiac surgeon to anesthesiologists, less than 100 percent focus is not an option. And so, despite my body’s pleas for water and rest, I stayed for the entire duration of the five-hour surgery.
After the successful surgery Pigula took me along on his rounds to check on his patients, talking to me in medical terms as if I were just another surgeon, but also explaining the cases more in depth to me so I could better understand as a student. In one room, two baby boys looked up at me, until I noticed that they were connected: infant Siamese twins.
That day will forever be engrained in my memory. However, it was one that didn’t come easily—after many attempts at contacting hospitals, doctors and their assistants, and public health organizations, I had begun to give up just as everyone had told me to. As a freshman in college, especially in a city like Boston where there is a never ending supply of pre-med and med students, It is 97 percent impossible, without personal connections, to gain any type of medical experience beyond being at an information desk. But someone in the remaining 3 percent, Pigula, decided to break the trend and let me scrub into one of his cases.
If I were a representative of any health-associated facility then I would instinctively choose an older, medical student over an undergraduate freshman in college too. However, with pre-med students dropping like flies after just one semester of chemistry, it is easy to have your resolve shaken. On weekends too, it’s often tempting to take partying three or more nights in a row over occasional Saturday nights in O’Neill. However, if more doctors and surgeons like Pigula allow a freshman to shadow them from time to time, the student’s resolve could be more easily solidified. Let me put it this way: from time to time I doubted myself in my abilities to follow through with the pre-med program and its rigorous demands. After just half a day in an OR, however, I am absolutely certain that medicine is the right path for me, even as a freshman, and am now exceptionally motivated to tackle the curriculum and the extra years of schooling.
For the first time, I saw, in that OR, biology, chemistry, and physics weaved smoothly together into a single mission: saving this patient. I no longer questioned the necessity of learning about chemical bonds and volumes. Now, I come to my chemistry class eagerly willing to learn, after finally realizing just how important it really is in the medical realm.
Opportunities like my day of shadowing Pigula aren’t easily accessible to freshmen, but that doesn’t mean that such opportunities don’t exist. Boston College undergraduates interested in the health and science professions can volunteer during the school year at organizations like Partners in Health, whose headquarters are in Boston, or right on BC grounds with the Campus School, a school for children under the age of 21 with with severe disabilities.
Despite the extremely popular misconception, one "C" on your first semester transcript doesn’t mean you should give up and transfer to CSOM because they don’t have as much post-grad schooling and because you’re convinced you’ll "make tons of cash in business." One rejection from a volunteering opportunity doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for more. Someone in that 3 percent—someone like Pigula—will let you learn that being pre-med is about being passionate and intrigued enough by science, health, and a challenging, intense vigor that makes you willing to dedicate a few extra years of your life to learning how to most directly help people for the rest of it.